pinball

Friends,

Peace be with you.

Occasionally, I have an experience that I have heard described as being “on tilt”. I believe this phrase comes from the game of pinball when someone would get so aggressive with the machine in an effort to influence the way a ball moves toward the flippers that the machine would light up “tilt” and freeze the flappers down while you watched the ball sail past out of play.

In poker, the same term refers to someone who gets overly aggressive, generally because of a bad loss of a hand, which makes the person bet in foolish ways not characteristic of their usual play. In my life, it tends to be because something is happening during Mass that I find distracting or disrespectful. Sometimes, the particular issue is my own, for instance when I allowed a crying child or unsilenced cell phone to take me out of prayer. But sometimes I feel I’m justified in being annoyed when, for instance, someone’s cell phone goes off in Mass and the person answers it and begrudgingly walks out of church as though I’m interrupting an important conversation or when I look out and consistently see a couple of people chatting during my homily (this is what we Catholics call the sermon).

 Believe it or not, this last example recently happened to the point where I was tempted to stop preaching and ask if they had something they wanted to share with everyone. Thankfully, I didn’t get that annoyed and was able to finish Mass, waiting until the end to suggest that people not sit next to people they may be tempted to talk to.

I bring this up because I feel like Thanksgiving can be a time of being on tilt. Sometimes it is because of differences within families. We may know that one of our relatives supports a political ideology or religion or sports team or something else that we find annoying. Just being in the room with the person can make us defensive and put us on tilt. Or you may find being in someone else’s house or having visitors in your house a little unsettling, especially if it affects your usual routine or your sleep. We don’t always know why we are annoyed but we know it’s not who we want to be or the best version of ourselves.

Whenever we find ourselves annoyed, it can put us on tilt and make us behave in ways that, later, we wish we hadn’t. And, let’s be honest, the last thing we want on a national day of rest like Thanksgiving, is to be on tilt. Some things I’ve found that help me to avoid being on tilt is to find a place I can go to give myself a break.

Basements are great for this but even a garage can work in a pinch. I’ve even invented a need to visit the bathroom if I just need to regroup. I’ve tried to change the subject if I feel like the conversation is headed in a bad direction, sometimes even being so bold as to say, “let’s change the subject to something a little lighter” and then ask a question that would be considered small talk like where they’d like to go on vacation or what movies or television shows they’ve watched.

Still, there are some things that are worth standing up for and we can’t walk away from every bit of conflict just so everyone gets along. Ask yourself if it’s worth the fight. If that’s the last conversation you have with the person, would you still have the conversation? Or can you just nod and smile while inwardly saying a prayer for wisdom for them and loving kindness for yourself? My hope is that, instead of feeling on tilt, we can all experience thankfulness for the people we are with and the opportunity to be with them and let our differences be secondary to our gratitude.